Dropped Calls: When Cell Phone Meets Toilet

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A BlackBerry takes a dive in a toilet bowl. i

When a BlackBerry or cell phone inadvertently takes a dive, that sinking feeling follows. John Poole/NPR hide caption

toggle caption John Poole/NPR
A BlackBerry takes a dive in a toilet bowl.

When a BlackBerry or cell phone inadvertently takes a dive, that sinking feeling follows.

John Poole/NPR

Bailout Plans

Last year, 148.2 million cell phones were sold in the United States, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. That's a lot of potential for mishaps, including soaks in sinks, toilets or sudden storms. In case of immersion, try this first aid for your cell phone or BlackBerry:

Act fast. Remove the battery immediately. Shake out water, gently patting the phone and battery dry with a paper towel.

Dry further with a vacuum. Don't use a hair dryer, even on a cool setting, WikiHow cautions. That can force moisture into tiny components.

Draw out additional moisture by submerging the phone and battery overnight in a container of dry rice or silica gel, Popular Mechanics advises.

See for a video demonstration of electronics SOS, courtesy of the electronics association. Go to "How-to Videos."

Note: These tips are not kitchen-tested. If you've got ideas, share them in the comment section below.

Many people go to the bathroom with their cell phones. And sometimes, the phone ends up answering the call of nature.

David Toledo of Miami came face to face with this situation, so to speak. On a flight to a meeting with a client in Denver, the telecommunications worker made a pit stop in the airplane bathroom. He flushed, stood up, pulled up his pants — and dislodged his BlackBerry into the dyed-blue swirling liquid. He went in after it.

"It was kinda gross afterward, but I had no choice," Taylor said. He gamely washed it, toweled it off, and later was even able to call his wife.

It was only after shaking the clients' hands that he got an inquisitive look: "What's going on with your face? You have this blue streak going across it."

There are untold numbers of cell-phone-to-toilet encounters every year. There are thousands that reportedly get stuck in sewage systems. And, according to a BBC News report in October, a man aboard a train in France trying to retrieve his downed cell phone lost the battle with the commode's suction system. Hours later, emergency workers reportedly removed the entire toilet, still attached to his arm.

Customers whose phones suffer some form of water damage are commonplace, says Frank Bennett, chief operating officer of Simplexity, an online wireless phone reseller. Customers calling or writing in with damaged phones don't always fess up to their toilet encounters. But some do.

"Besides people's dogs eating them and getting washed in the washing machine, it happens quite often," said Bennett, who readily admits he has dropped two phones in the bowl himself — and fished them out.

The Ones That Got Away

People use larger phones with screens and keyboards now, so fewer of them get flushed all the way down, Bennett said. And since they're expensive — smart phones can run up to $500 a device — people are buying insurance for phones in greater numbers. However, most insurance policies don't insure against toilet drops. Setting aside whether it's socially acceptable to talk on the phone in the john, dropping one there is usually considered "negligent" by the insurance companies, according to Bennett.

Case in point: Bennett recently talked to a woman who was in a portable outhouse changing her son's diaper when her phone dived in. She saw it, but wasn't willing to retrieve it.

Understandable? Totally. Insurable? Probably not. "So it was in this interesting legal status of not being actually lost, but being unretrievable," Bennett explained.

Lacking insurance for his smart phone, Washington Post Baghdad correspondent Ernesto Londono managed to resuscitate his by drying it out in a bed of rice for several days.

"Very, very slowly, it sprang back to life," he said.

The rescue effort was mission critical, he said. In addition to keeping some vital work-related information in the phone, it was the only place he had the phone number of a new love interest.

It worked. At least for six months, Londono said. "Which, unfortunately, was more than the relationship."

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